Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (169)

John Deasy


297 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the plans she has to raise the medical card income limits; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25339/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The Government is fully committed to the extension of medical card coverage, as set out in the health strategy. This will focus on people on low incomes. The timing of the introduction of the extension will be decided having regard to the prevailing budgetary position.

Income guidelines are drawn up each year by the health board or authority chief executive officers to assist in the determination of a person's eligibility for a medical card and these are revised annually in line with the consumer price index, CPI. The last such increase was notified in January 2004. Health board chief executive officers have discretion with regard to the issuing of medical cards and a range of income sources are excluded by the boards when assessing medical card eligibility. Despite someone having an income that exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that a person's medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

The health strategy includes an entire series of initiatives to clarify and expand the existing arrangements for eligibility for health services, including recommendations arising from the review of the medical card scheme carried out by the health board chief executive officers under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. There are recommendations to streamline applications and improve the standardisation of the medical card applications process to ensure better fairness and transparency, to provide clearer information to people about how and where to apply for medical cards, and to proactively seek out those who should have medical cards to ensure they have access to the services that are available.

In addition, my Department is committed to the preparation of new legislation to update and codify the whole legal framework for eligibility and entitlements in regard to health services.